In The Field

A western Illinois farmer harvests corn.
Credit Abby Wendle / File: Harvest Public Media

The people and places that make our food system go.

Ways to Connect

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Expect challenges in the Midwest to so-called “ag-gag” laws, laws that criminalize certain forms of data collection and recording on farms and ranches, after a series of challenges have left Utah’s law permanently struck down and Wyoming’s on shaky ground.

On Wednesday, the Utah attorney general’s office said it would not appeal a federal judge’s decision to strike down the state’s law as unconstitutional, effectively killing the legislation.

“[Ag-gag] laws in states like Iowa and Kansas are crying out for a challenge at this point,” says University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau, one of the attorneys representing animal rights groups in the Utah case.

Genetically engineered cotton seeds delivered to Missouri farmers in 2015 featured a warning not to spray them with dicamba. The corresponding dicamba herbicide was not approved by regulators until 2017.
File: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

The herbicide dicamba is thought to have been the culprit in more than 3 million acres of damaged soybeans across the country, destroying plants and leaving farmers out millions of dollars in crops.

The chemical has been in use for decades, so why is it today apparently causing farms so much damage?

Courtesy Colorado State University

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is questioning the qualifications of President Trump’s pick to lead the research division at the USDA, a post generally held in the past by a trained scientist.

In July, Trump nominated former conservative talk radio host and economics professor Sam Clovis to be the agency’s undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.

Luke Runyon

After years of declining income on America’s farms and ranches, the agricultural sector might have finally hit the floor.  

The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture expect farmers to bring in more money this year than initially projected. Crop and livestock producers could net $63.4 billion in 2017. That would be an increase of nearly $1 billion from 2016, and would be the first time farmers see a rise in net farm income year-to-year since 2013.

Local Boy Scouts carry flags down Illinois Street in a parade marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city of Sidney, Nebraska.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Sidney, Nebraska, has prospered while many rural cities have struggled. For decades, the city has been home to Cabela’s, a major outdoor retail chain.

As Cabela’s completes a deal in which it will be bought by a rival, however, the future of Sidney’s economic engine is in doubt. As in other rural cities that have faced the loss or closure of major industry, the question is how the community will move on and grow in the 21st Century.

Chafer Machinery/Creative Commons

Applying large amounts of pesticides to farm fields can have negative effects on babies born to mothers living nearby, according to new research.

The data-crunching study published in Nature Communications looked at the farm-heavy San Joaquin Valley in California, where a variety of pesticides get applied to dozens of different crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Courtesy of Iowans for Sam Clovis

As President Donald Trump continues to fill political appointments, his nomination for the top science job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is raising unique concerns.

Trump has chosen Iowan Sam Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. Clovis served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, has a doctorate in public administration, and taught economics at Morningside College in Sioux City.

Sioux City is also where he gained a following as a conservative talk show host.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The federal commission in charge of enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws found a Colorado meatpacking plant violated the rights of its Muslim workers during a dispute over prayer breaks.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found reasonable cause that Cargill Meat Solutions and labor union Teamsters Local No. 455 violated the rights of Somali workers when it fired nearly 150 of them for failing to show up to work after a walk-out at its Fort Morgan, Colo. beef plant in late 2015.

A barge sits in Missouri on the Mississippi River before it heads downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.
File: Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

Chemical runoff from Midwest farm fields is contributing to the largest so-called ‘dead zone’ on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists have mapped the size of the oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf since 1985. This year’s is estimated at more than 8,700 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey.

The amount and timing of rainfall contribute to the washing of chemicals from farm fields throughout the watershed into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf.

Sister Loretta Jasper cut the ribbon on the Neighbor to Neighbor drop-in center in Abilene, Kansas, in February.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

The social and health effects of isolation on some rural Kansas residents spurred three Catholic nuns to convert a storefront in Concordia, Kansas, into a drop-in center where women can find support and resources. 

Seven years after the center opened, two dozen women on average come through each day in the town of about 5,000 to socialize, do laundry, get a cooking lesson, or simply connect with others.

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